A local film, inspired by a true story, joins the global movement to shine light on the issue of rape. PLUS: Learn more about what is unfolding this month for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“It’s like cloudy vision,” Deborah Allen says, her eyes glistening with the hint of tears.
Her voice catches as she continues to explain why it is still so difficult, at nearly 60 years old, to talk about being raped at the age of 15.
“I had a 12-year-old client tell me once that it feels like a wall,” she goes on. “That’s what it feels like. It’s like the body is trying to protect my memory.”
The part of her that froze all those years ago reaches for the surface and threatens to take control. But she doesn’t cry. She straightens up, makes eye contact, and slowly, steadily, relays the memory:
“I had gone away to a theater camp on a college campus. I was 15. One of the members of the faculty had a party with all these kids and all these older people. I got drunk, and I passed out and stayed where I was, and woke up in the middle of being raped. He was a teacher in the program. He was around 45.”
Allen, a Soquel-based counselor and former theater professional, finds herself revisiting the memory more often these days. She has written a movie inspired by her experience, titled JANE, which is set to start filming this summer.
“I’m getting better at talking about it without triggering all the time,” she says. “I want to be able to stand as a good businesswoman for the film, so I can’t be crying all the time.”
However, after nearly a decade of working on the screenplay for JANE, Allen still could not bring herself to write the scene she knew she needed to. The 15-year-old title character is a close representation of Allen at that age: both are “intellectually precocious,” quirky, and artistic. Allen, ever the dramatist, would show up to high school in a bathrobe, where she would proclaim that “school is where you go to sleep”—a defiant sentiment Jane expresses in the script. But when it came to the rape itself, Allen put distance between her story and Jane’s.
“It was hard writing that, so I didn’t,” she says. “I always had it a little bit off. I had the right feelings, the right trajectory, the right age, the right healing of trauma, but I couldn’t do it.”
Although they knew that her history had fueled the project, Allen’s producing partners on the film—director (and her stepson) Mike Buffo, his wife and actress in the film Brittney Buffo, and producer Ike Jablon—did not know what had actually happened to her. The group has been working full time on making JANE a reality since late last year, and, a few months ago, Jane’s attack was deemed to be in need of reworking. With their support, Allen opened up about her rape and rewrote the scene to mirror her own experience. “Now it works,” she says.
There are, however, also some notable distinctions between the screenwriter’s personal experience and the film’s plot. Allen did not tell anyone about the rape or come to terms with it herself until her early thirties—leading, eventually, to her career change from theater to becoming an expert in trauma, healing and counseling. Jane reports hers and goes to court, where she loses. When Allen took full-force fighting classes from Impact Bay Area, in Monterey, 10 years ago, she vomitted the first time she had to get in the position she was raped in and fight off a faux attacker. This visceral detail made it into the film, when Jane begins self-defense classes. While Allen never confronted her rapist, Jane does have that opportunity. In this way, Allen was able to re-imagine her own story through writing Jane’s.
“I’m really glad she’s turned out to be who she is, and she has a life outside of me,” Allen says. “She’s an alter ego. She’s a representative, living archetype of potential and change and something new that I didn’t know how to do.”
Jablon, a Daytime Emmy-nominated producer who moved back to his native Santa Cruz last fall, says he was drawn to this project because of the depth and authenticity behind it.
“In a sense, writing this script over the last decade has been her own way of healing from what happened to her,” says Jablon. “I think that comes out with the characters—they are all very well developed, to the point you can tell there are personal stories behind the pages. There are personal struggles and personal trauma that went into creating these characters, and how they develop in the film is a lot of how Deb healed from her own trauma.”
Exhuming the memory and drawing on it for this screenplay was a hard and bold move for Allen, but she says the brave part is yet to come.
“One of the hardest things I’ve done around JANE is risk becoming a public face for rape,” she says. “It would not be exactly what I would have wanted to do. And I could back out of talking about it … but I think there is something on the level of the soul that isn’t negotiable right now. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
One in Five
“Jane” is a film, and a character, but she is also a symbol of all women who have been raped. Every fifth woman is Jane, according to the United Nations. One in three women are physically or sexually abused.
“The fact of the matter is that, right now, one in three women is abused in her life,” says Jablon. “So clearly there are people out there who could connect with this film.” The amount of sexual abuse endured by men and boys is slowly coming into the light, as well: one in 71 have been raped according to a recent government study.
The fact that Jane loses in court is a realistic depiction of what victims are up against, he says.
Indeed, hardly any reported rapes lead to anyone doing jail time. According to a report by End Violence Against Women International, .2 to 2.8 out of 100 rapes committed result in incarceration. Five to 20 are reported, .4 to 5.4 are prosecuted, and .2-5.2 result in a conviction, says the study.
Sixty of the 172 assaults reported in the City of Santa Cruz between 2008-2010 resulted in arrest, according to the November 2012 “Joint Report on Sexual Assault” by the City of Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW). This figure includes all sexual assaults, such as gropings. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), 8.2 percent of reported rapes in Santa Cruz resulted in arrest in 2011. For the same year, the national rate was 6.3 percent. As for how many of these led to charges being filed, trials and convictions, the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office has not provided that information to the CPVAW for its reports and did not respond to Good Times’ request for that information.
While Jane loses in court to an A-lister with deep pockets and celebrity sway, Jablon points to Jeremy Goulet, the shooter who killed two Santa Cruz Police Department officers on Feb. 26, as another illustration of how the system can be unfair for victims. The former military pilot’s record of sexual assault, including video taping women, peeping and rape charges that had been dropped by the Army, came to light after the tragic shootout in Santa Cruz. When Sgt. Butch Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler visited his home that fatal Tuesday afternoon, they were investigating an alleged attempted sexual assault involving one of his coworkers.
“He’s an example of how the script relates to the realistic system that girls and women are facing,” Jablon says. “With Jeremy Goulet, there are these alleged rapes he did while he was in the army, and it’s almost like it was swept under the rug.”
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta raised the issue when he spoke at the memorial for the fallen SCPD officers, which Kathy Agnone, coordinator for the CPVAW, says was “surprising” and poignant. “For someone of his stature to speak so boldly at that time was important,” she says. She has recommended that the city send thank you letters to Panetta and two other legislators (Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Jackie Speier) for addressing the pervasive issue of sexual assault in the military (a problem explored in the 2013 Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War).
Sen. Barbara Boxer is also raising questions, referencing Goulet as evidence of problems within the military judicial system. In March, she told KION, “They plea bargained him out of the military and there he is and he kills two police officers. Because rape is a violent crime, and a person who rapes is capable of killing.”
But locally, while the tragedy has spurred community-wide mourning and a fever pitch over crime, this particular incident’s ties to rape culture have remained largely in the shadows, says Gillian Greensite, who helped co-found CPVAW in the early 1980s and served as UCSC’s Rape Prevention Educator for 30 years.
“The connections are there, but people aren’t seeing the dots,” says Greensite, who recently spent six weeks in Africa, where she taught rape prevention workshops in teacher-training schools in Tanzania and Malawi.
Considering that 33 rapes were reported in the City of Santa Cruz in 2012 (and 24, 24 and 31 in 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively), Greensite is troubled that there isn’t more attention paid to the problem.
“[There is an] incredible silencing of this issue,” says Greensite. “One example of that is the current heightened awareness and demand for something to be done about crime and needles and homeless, and no mention of rape at all. Last year there were 33 rapes and attempted rapes reported to our police department … That [rape] is not even included on the list of concerns, is one issue. It’s more silencing.”
Greensite, herself, has felt quieted when raising the issue in the past. In 2006, while serving on the CPVAW for the second time, she felt that findings—such as “reported rape crimes are higher than comparison cities and counties”—in the commission’s “Report on Rape and Sexual Assault,” which was prepared by Applied Survey Research, were ignored. “We were one of the highest in the state for rape, very low arrest rates, we had a high percentage of rapes committed by strangers, and when we presented that data no one wanted to hear about that,” she says.
More recently, Santa Cruz local Erik Bovee’s report “Santa Cruz is a Very Dangerous Place to Live” used UCR data to compare 2009-2011 crimes rates in Santa Cruz to other California cities with populations of 50,000-61,000 and found that Santa Cruz ranked first and second for forcible rape. When compared to all California cities with populations over 50,000, he found that Santa Cruz ranked 10th in 2011.
In an email to GT, Santa Cruz Deputy Chief of Police Steven Clark cautions against putting too much credence in the UCR data: “It does not tell the entire story, especially when used for comparison,” he writes. “There is simply too much variance in the way crimes are reported to gather significant correlations.”
That said, he adds, “We are concerned about the number of reported incidents of sexual assault … I think we need to continue to educate people on the larger topic of sexual assault and about making good choices as well as creating a culture of respect for each other. Rape in any form is a serious and horrific crime, not something that should be taken lightly.”
Rape most recently landed in local headlines because of a false report made by a UC Santa Barbara student visiting the UC Santa Cruz campus. Initially, the report shook the UCSC community, prompting a candlelight vigil, public meetings and increased campus safety measures.
The story took a series of strange turns when UCSC police revealed that the young woman had fabricated the rape, and had actually found someone to beat her up and have sex with her on Craigslist. In addition to being ordered to undergo mental health counseling, she was charged with a misdemeanor for making the false report and is due for a preliminary hearing in court on May 23.
For local rape prevention educators, the buzz-inducing incident was another obstacle for real rape survivors. “It takes a toll on someone who is a survivor to come forward and be believed because that is already such a struggle,” says Kalyne Foster, fund development director for Women’s Crisis Support – Defensa de Mujeres, adding that false reports are actually very rare.
College students are a high-risk group when it comes to sexual assault, says UCSC Sexual Violence Prevention Educator Caitlin Stinneford. According to a 2012 report by the American Association of University Professors, up to 25 percent of females and 4 percent of males on U.S. college campuses are victims of sexual assault.
Stinneford says she has heard from students who felt disparaged by the fictitious report.
“[People have said], ‘This is the reason no one believed me,’” she says. “It was triggering for a lot of people who had been through an experience themselves. It was especially difficult because they know how hard it is to have gone through this and have to pick up the pieces afterward and for someone to lie about that is unfathomable. Why would you want to pretend you have gone through this? It downplays their experience to make it seem like it’s a joke.”
In light of this month being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, groups like Stinneford’s, Defensa de Mujeres and the CPVAW are hoping to shift the focus onto real victims and the real issue. Efforts like the Resource Center for Nonviolence’s March 29 “Resist Rape Culture” event, a movement of the same name at UCSC, and the new student group Men Creating Change are also fighting to break the silence on the issue of rape. (See the sidebar on page 25 for more information about Sexual Assault Awareness Month events.) JANE hopes to do the same.
Igniting the Spark
When Allen updated her LinkedIn account with information about JANE, she began receiving messages. One, sent from a man in India, applauded the project but said that the main character’s age wasn’t right—12 years old would be more realistic than 15.
For the most part, the JANE team has received only supportive and positive feedback—including a phenomenon several of them have experienced in which merely by being involved in the film, or mentioning the project, women, some of whom they have known for years, divulge their own buried stories of sexual assault and abuse. This is an encouraging sign to the filmmakers that the film—even before it has been made—is capable of generating discussion and healing.
But not everyone wants the topic talked about.
“I know who you are. I know where you live. I’m coming to kill you. And if you don’t believe me, I’ve killed these people …”
Allen was horrified to find this threat posted to the JANE Facebook page late last year. In a split second reflex, she reported the comment to the site and the nasty message disappeared. In hindsight, she wishes she had saved it.
“If we were going to make a story up—because we don’t actually know the story—it would be that there are people out there who think that women are lying about it, or making a big fuss over nothing,” she says. “It’s another level of misogyny and silencing.”
Did it make her reconsider what she’s doing with JANE? She smiles and shakes her head. “Not when I see what other women are doing. There are women who are taking huge risks.”
“The timing is, for the first time in my life, maybe exquisite in terms of there being a huge conversation going on all over the world,” she adds. She and the other JANE producers were involved in the Monterey outpost of One Billion Rising on Feb. 14, a global movement aimed at raising awareness about violence against women. The Santa Cruz event, which took place at the Museum of Art & History, attracted 500-700 participants, says organizer Kate Roberts.
Several high-profile rapes in recent months have triggered international conversation about rape culture and fired up interest in events like One Billion Rising. A Swiss tourist was gang raped in India in March, just three months after a 23-year-old Indian woman was gang raped in Delhi, India and died from the resulting injuries—an event that rattled the globe and sparked widespread discussion.
In March, in another case that has received worldwide attention, two teenage boys from Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl who was unconscious after drinking at a party. The case involved a disturbing trail of photos, videos, text messages and social media posts circulated by the suspects and other youth.
“[What happened in] Steubenville, unfortunately, is not an uncommon thing,” says Stinneford, at UCSC. “It was uncommon because it was all caught on tape and there was evidence everywhere.”
The victim of a similar incident hanged herself earlier this month. Nova Scotia, Canada teenager Rehtaeh Parsons died from injuries resulting from a suicide attempt on April 7, two years after she was allegedly gang raped by four boys at the age of 15. A photo from the rape went viral among her peers, leading to bullying and torment. Her death bears striking similarities to the suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, of Saratoga, who hanged herself last September after allegedly being sexually battered by several teenage boys. She, too, was haunted by photos of the assault that were circulated.
Recently, the JANE Facebook page shared “A Needed Response,” a viral 27-second video targeted at the Steubenville rapists and others confused about what constitutes consent. The short piece, which has more than 2.2 million hits on YouTube, shows a young man in front of a camera with a young woman passed out on a couch behind him. “Hey bros,” he starts, “check who passed out on the couch. Guess what I’m going to do to her.”
“He gets her a pillow and a blanket and a glass of water,” says Allen. “I just sobbed when I saw that. That’s the completion of the cycle. This little 30-second thing—it was like I waited my whole life to see that.”
JANE co-producer Brittney Buffo, who will play Jane’s Aunt Claire, thinks the film can add fuel to a growing fire.
“I’m so drawn to doing work like this [film] because the core of it is about really empowering women and making them feel good about themselves, that they can do things, they can change, they can support each other—not that they don’t already know that, but when you see it on the screen, when you see it happening all around you, it lights a bigger fire,” she says. “Our tagline is ‘There is a spark in each of us that no one can destroy.’ When there are others around you holding that spark, everyone is sparking each other, and it’s spreading—that’s what’s happening in the world around rape right now, and JANE is a part of that.”
Foster, from Defensa de Mujeres, says the rape discussion is something everyone must be a part of—it affects us all, and will take us all to solve.
“The conversation has definitely started, and it’s up to all of us as a community to all be a part of the conversation,” Foster says. “Because even if you don’t know someone who has been sexually assaulted, you probably do. The numbers are that high. And that’s just what’s reported.”
A Story of Healing
The impact of a rape does not stop when the rape is done. “[A rape] means, can someone go to their job the next day? Will they lose their housing because they haven’t been able to work? What about family, friends?” says Greensite. “There is so much, irrespective of any medical concerns.”
Allen “went south” after being raped. “It took until my mid-20s to come back,” she says.
“I spent a lot of years acting out as though I were damaged goods, on every level of my psyche, and that’s what’s taken me 30 years to figure out,” she says. “[I was] taking less, taking people behaving poorly toward me and not saying anything, aborting creative projects because I’m not valuable; when you treat someone like an object you leave that behind.”
Her trauma manifested physically as chronic pain in her female organs that she has since healed from. And after years of psychotherapy and teaching about healing, Allen still can’t, for example, walk on the beach alone. “It’s an invasion, “ she says. “It’s never being able to feel safe again.”
But this doesn’t mean she’s broken, she adds. The most important thing she’s learned from her experience and that of women she works with is that trauma does not diminish or define a person.
“I don’t want to be treated like just a victim,” says Allen. “And I don’t want to be treated like I’ve survived something unusual, because I haven’t, and I’m not just a survivor. I’m a whole person. And something happened to me that shouldn’t have happened, but I’m not damaged goods.”
JANE embodies this message. Allen calls the film “an upbeat, inspiring story,” and the producers peg it as a realistic romantic drama (at its heart is the relationship between Jane and her best friend, a teenage boy named Sam).
“It’s actually about standing even and becoming whole,” she says. “It’s not a revenge movie. It’s about not letting a traumatic event like that define you as permanently broken.”
Tools for healing and empowerment are built into what they say will be an indie film with a big, beautiful Hollywood-type story with recognizable actors. They hinted that their casting plans include at least one big name, for the role of Alex, the celebrity who attacks Jane.
Not since the 1988 film The Accused, which he calls “a landmark moment for rape in film,” has the subject been broached in narrative film to the degree JANE aims to achieve, says Jablon. “JANE is about preventing rape,” he says, “but if it can’t be prevented, it’s about where you go from there. How you heal.”
The producers are developing a curriculum to go along with the movie and plan for it to have a strong “second life” after its initial release as a tool for discussion in classrooms, youth groups, rape crisis centers and more.
In addition to the Buffos, Allen and Jablon, the JANE crew includes award-winning documentary cameraman Bob Elfstrom as director of photography and accomplished editor Steve Cohen. (Allen says she realized this film “had legs” when these two industry veterans signed on.)
The team is anxious to start filming so they can unleash JANE, and its message, on the world. The plan is to begin filming in the Monterey Bay Area this summer (they want to showcase Santa Cruz’s beauty in the film) and release the movie next year.
But while the script and business plans are done, and the crew is signed on, JANE needs investors to get on board in order for casting and filming to get under way.
“Our deepest wounds turn into our greatest medicine,” says Mike Buffo, who teaches along with his stepmother, Allen, at a transpersonal energy healing school in Los Angeles. “The people out there who can give to this film—who are able to support us, who have been touched by this issue—through us, they can employ us to spread their medicine. That’s what we want. We want to go to work—for them. We’ll spread the medicine.”
Find JANE online at jane-themovie.com or search for JANE (The Movie) on Facebook.
+SANTA CRUZ CELEBRATES SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH
Women’s Crisis Support – Defensa de Mujeres organized the third annual Santa Cruz Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event on Saturday, April 13. The nationwide event—in which participants march in high heels—was started by men looking to raise rape awareness. Defensa de Mujeres will have a table about Sexual Assault Awareness Month at the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market on April 24 and at the Watsonville Farmers’ Market on April 26. The organization is facilitating sexual assault educational support groups at Watsonville High, Pajaro Valley High, Harbor High and New School throughout the month of April. Find them online at wcs-ddm.org.
UC Santa Cruz’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Education program is currently hosting a series of workshops on a variety of topics every Thursday night at 8 p.m. (Visit http://healthcenter.ucsc.edu for more information.) The program put on a screening of The Bro Code, a documentary that explores masculinity and rape culture, at 8 p.m. on April 17 at the campus Health Center. On April 21, they are offering a free, five-hour violence prevention training for students, staff and faculty. The program has partnered with the new campus group Men Creating Change, and continues to offer programs for Greek student organizations. They are co-sponsoring the campus celebration of Denim Day on April 24.
Denim Day, an annual day to wear blue jeans in protest of an Italian High Court decision that overturned a rape conviction because the victim’s jeans were tight, will also be honored in town on April 24 by Santa Cruz’s Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women. Among its other efforts, CPVAW has been offering low-cost self-defense classes for 25 years (find more info at santacruzparksandrec.com), and has been working with Santa Cruz City Schools to provide safety skills classes to youth for a half decade now. The commission is also building its Safe Place Network (which involves training local businesses on becoming safe places for people to come when they feel unsafe) and organizes “Engaging the Bystander” workshops, which aim to educate people on how to handle situations they witness.